As the chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced a further increase in government borrowing in his Budget on Wednesday, the Treasury prepared an attack on what one insider called "an advertising culture" in Whitehall. The Treasury wants departments to consider alternative options before rushing into high-profile ads.
But the clampdown has produced claims of double standards by other departments.
The most prominent government campaign now running is a £9 million blitz by M&C Saatchi for the Inland Revenue on Brown's flagship scheme, the child tax credit, that took effect this week.
The Treasury move comes as COI Communications' ad budget for the 2002-03 financial year, which ended this week, is expected to be almost identical to the £162 million spent in the previous 12 months. The high spend is worrying the Treasury.